Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Until Now...

A sketch assemblage of one of Folsom's many Cowgirls...
This is a cut and paste study of a woman I have tried to sketch, in bits and pieces, over the past few months. Actually longer than that...

I first met Jenny years before Katrina and naturally, I met her at Gus's restaurant in the village of Folsom. I was taken back by her gruff manners, loud voice and the fact that she walked right in and made a fresh pot of coffee as if she owned the place. The adage about "book covers" resonated in my mind which made me feel guilty for prejudging her. Unfortunately, the cover was all that was needed  to entertain myself wondering how she'd look dressed to the nines, with makeup on, in high heels and a slinky black strapless evening gown. I wondered what hairstyle would she wear? I don't think I have ever seen her without a horse themed baseball cap on her head. Her scruffy, blonde white hair, crooked spectacles, missing tooth and leathery, sun bleached skin was, at first, a sight to behold and quite frankly, still is.

Now, when I was young, after having fallen off a horse twice in one day, I was consoled by a Texas cowboy that told me it takes at least ten times falling off before you can be called a true cowboy. If that is truly the case, then John Wayne's got nothing on me. For I have fallen off more horses in more states to qualify me as cowboy extraordinaire ten times ten. But that's a story for another time. Suffice to say, a horse is one of God's most eloquent designs especially when, for no reason or for the pure joy of it all, they just take off and run. Over time, I became fascinated by the many urban cowboys and true country cowpokes that daily drop by the restaurant for a cup of coffee and a bit of conversation about their favorite subject, horses. The restaurant is always full of horse people, cowboys and plowboys, rednecks and rejects, winners and losers, those that ride and those that own, barrel racers, jumpers, rounders and recreationals, all talking that talk.

Jenny is one of about five women I have befriended over the years that are professional riders or caretakers of the equine. And it comes as no surprise that Jenny is the most eccentric.

"I've been around animals all of my life. In the old country, ( Holland ) my daddy taught me how to ride bareback at the age of three," she said. By the time I was ten, I was trained to be a jumper. Daddy would put a coin between my knees as I sat atop the saddle and told me to make sure it was still there after the horse made the jump! He'd pay me double if I was successful, but owned him double if I let the coin fall to the ground!"

She said with a nod of her head and a toothy smirk, "He was tough on me! I was the youngest of twelve brothers and sisters and I had to prove myself worthy of their respect every day... and of the horses."

"You have to earn the respect of the horse as well," I inquired.

"Of course, she said, that's the trouble with the horse's about winnings. They don't respect animals, they don't care about the horses. They're not there for them. They don't understand 'em. You see this year's prize, Zendatta?"

And so for the next half hour or so, just enough time to finish another cup of coffee, Jenny went on and on about Zendatta's training regiment, and how the jockey misunderstood the horse's style of running and what he'd do over to win the race if he had a second chance. She went on about breeding and maintenance, about the financial state of racing, about calcium in the soil and how horses get nourish- ment and the nutritional differences of thoroughbreds and other breeds... and on and on.

Seems like few people have the hands on knowledge as someone like Jenny. It's not just her job, it is her entire life. All seventy years of dedication.

I always knew horse racing was an expensive sport, but I never realized that there was so much involved in the details of owning and caring for horses till I met Jenny. But then, until now, I never really saw past the cover.

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